Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Will a class-action suit put the brakes on Uber?

    Taxi drivers protest against Uber in Sacramento, California, June 25, 2014. REUTERS/Max WhittakerTaxi drivers protest against Uber in Sacramento, California, June 25, 2014. REUTERS/Max Whittaker

    There’s been an inevitability about the spread of Uber, the app-based ride-sharing service, as it’s implanted itself into more cities around the world, including major Canadian ones such as Toronto and Montreal.

    Despite its popularity with riders, Uber has met opposition almost everywhere. Taxi operators see it as unfair competition and municipal governments resent Uber thumbing its nose at attempts to regulate the service.

    But it keeps expanding. Like the Borg in TV’s ‘Star Trek,’ it seems resistance is futile.

    Which raises this question: what chance does a lawsuit filed on behalf of Ontario cabbies have of succeeding where regulators and protesting cabbies almost everywhere have failed?

    A law firm has filed a class action worth more than $400 million, alleging the tech company conspired with its UberX drivers to pick up passengers for compensation, breaching Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act.

    Section 39.1 of the provincial law bans the practice of giving rides for money without proper

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  • Smoky grapes, scorched beef: ‘Agri-threats’ posed by B.C. wildfires

    A water bomber returns to Okanagan Lake during efforts to fight the wildfire in Kelowna, B.C. (Reuters)A water bomber returns to Okanagan Lake during efforts to fight the wildfire in Kelowna, B.C. (Reuters)

    If you like your wine to have a smoky flavour, having the grapes ripen in the midst of a raging wildfire is not how you get it.

    The Okanagan region of southern British Columbia once again is threatened by fires racing through the tinder-dry forests near the postcard-pretty lake shore. Some of the area’s flourishing wineries are getting ready to again protect their vineyards and buildings.

    It’s just one of the sectors of B.C.’s agriculture industry that has to worry about wildfires, whose damaging effects aren’t limited to blackened strands of timber. Cattle ranchers, pork and chicken operators and orchard-fruit growers can all find themselves scrambling if fire threatens to encroach on them.

    Memories of 2003’s Summer of Fire aren’t buried very deeply around Okanagan Lake. That year, the Okanagan Mountain Park fire ate into the grapevines at Oak Bay Vineyards and destroyed the first winery building at adjacent St. Hubertus Estate winery, as well as co-founder Leo Gebert’s home.

    “It was

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  • No single answer to best ensuring pipeline safety, say experts

    An aerial view shows the spill near the Nexen Energy's Long Lake oilsands facility. (Reuters)An aerial view shows the spill near the Nexen Energy's Long Lake oilsands facility. (Reuters)

    The recent spill of diluted oil sands bitumen after a pipeline break in northern Alberta has largely fallen off the news radar in most of Canada.

    It’s probably not surprising, given the remote location at Nexen Energy’s production site near Fort McMurray. If five million litres (about 30,000 Imperial barrels) of emulsion made up of bitumen, water and sand had created a small lake near, say, Calgary, it would be front-page news.

    Nonetheless, those who follow such things have taken note. The double-walled production pipeline was only about a year old and supposedly had the latest leak-detection technology. Both apparently failed; it was a Nexen worker who happened to be in the area who spotted the spill.

    The embattled energy industry can ill afford another black mark. It’s already tough enough  to sell Canadians on the idea of more pipelines to pump large quantities of bitumen diluted with solvents (known as diluent) through pipelines headed west to the B.C. coast, east through central

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  • Wildfire future: Canada facing far more flames in years to come

    Cpl. Kevin Deng, a member of the Canadian Forces looks for hotspots from wildfires near Montreal Lake, Sask., Thursday, July 9, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntoshCpl. Kevin Deng, a member of the Canadian Forces looks for hotspots from wildfires near Montreal Lake, Sask., Thursday, July 9, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

    From Vancouver, where the hazy orange air smelled like a campfire last week, to smoke-clouded Saskatchewan, wildfires are adding even more scorch to a hot summer.

    The fire season in Western Canada started early this year and with a vengeance. Lightning set off tinder-dry remote northern forests, augmented in the south by human stupidity ranging from dubiously tended campfires to criminal carelessness with discarded cigarette butts. Yes, still.

    Experts say we’d better get used to this. Climate change is extending the wildfire season and increasing the intensity of the fires, adding risk to life, property and stretching provincial fire-fighting budgets.

    In other words, we may have to get used to eating smoke more often.

    You can’t point to any one big wildfire or bad season and finger climate change, any more than one bad storm can be blamed on climate-induced changes to weather patterns.

    But based on recent trends, the outlook to the middle of this century is not good.

    “Currently in

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  • Mother Canada war memorial controversy stretches from Ottawa to Cape Breton

    A well-intentioned effort to honour Canadian war dead buried overseas with a memorial in their homeland has become mired in controversy. But despite the Conservative government’s backing, it’s unlikely to affect the party’s prospects this fall.

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s near decade in power has featured a marked increase in the military’s profile, especially its historical contributions, even if government’s dealing with veterans have sometimes raised doubts about his sincerity.

    It’s not surprising the Conservatives got behind a plan by Toronto businessman Tony Trigiani to erect a massive new memorial to Canada’s fallen on Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast, a kind of bookend to the much beloved Vimy Memorial in France.

    In fact, the giant statue, dubbed Mother Canada by Trigiani’s Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation, would even be in direct line of site with Vimy.

    “It symbolizes the welcoming home of over 114,000 souls that are buried in 2,500-plus cemeteries around the world

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  • Getting used to coyotes as neighbours, but don’t make friends with them

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    Canadian city-dwellers are used to living with wildlife, from squirrels, deer, raccoons and even the occasional bear in some Metro Vancouver neighbourhoods.

    Squirrels are cute, and so are raccoons when they’re not emptying your garbage bin all over the yard. But some of us are ambivalent about another animal that’s come to enjoy living in the city: the coyote.

    Reports of coyote sightings and encounters have climbed steadily in Canada, including incidents where they’ve preyed on cats and small dogs, and claims they’ve attacked people.

    In early June, a coyote reportedly jumped into a fenced yard in London, Ont., and killed a wheaten terrier that had been let outside for its evening constitutional.

    In May, a coyote was blamed for knocking down and mauling a teenage girl as she walked in London park, though some say a dog is the more likely culprit.

    Conservation officers in Vancouver killed an aggressive coyote after it was reported stalking a woman and her leased dogs in the downtown

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  • What does the face of radical jihadism look like? No 'magic profile' exists, experts say

    A Lebanese Sunni Muslim fighter with the 'Jihad to Liberate Syria' group rests at a home 12 kilometers from the Syrian border, on November 13, 2012 in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. (Photo by Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)A Lebanese Sunni Muslim fighter with the 'Jihad to Liberate Syria' group rests at a home 12 kilometers from the Syrian border, on November 13, 2012 in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. (Photo by Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

    With the so-called war on terror well into its second decade, are we any closer to decoding the allure of radicalism to some young people and finding ways to disrupt it?

    The brief arrest of 10 young Quebecers who went to the same junior college and the seizure of their passports as they tried to leave the country a couple of weeks ago underscores the scope of the problem. It also demonstrates some success in identifying potential foreign fighters. The fact a parent alerted the RCMP suggests perhaps authorities are getting better at eliciting help from Muslim communities.

    However, those who study radicalism and violent extremism are still debating what weight to give the basic motivating elements, facets that can help distinguish potential terrorists and expat jihadis from people just blowing off steam.

    And government apparently still hasn’t developed solid strategies to divert them from radicalism, though piecemeal programs exist.

    Building an exact profile of a potential jihadi has

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  • B.C. island may be on sale for just $380,000, but the reality of living there isn’t idyllic

    Round Island, British Columbia. (Courtesy of BCOceanfront.com)Round Island, British Columbia. (Courtesy of BCOceanfront.com)

    Soaring real estate prices are an obsession for people living in Vancouver.

    Mortgaged homeowners worry how they’ll make their payments if interest rates go up. Younger people wonder how they’ll ever scrap up the down payment for even a shoebox-sized condo in one of the city’s many glass towers, never mind an average modest family home that gives not much change from a million dollars.

    So the idea of buying an entire island off the B.C. coast for the price of condo or even less within an easy boat trip to Vancouver or Victoria might be very enticing.

    It sounds romantic. Leave the hustle of the big city behind and telecommute, working to the sound of waves lapping on your private beach while you contemplate the maritime vista from your home overlooking the shore.

    A CTV News report this week noted three-hectare Round Island, off the east coast of Vancouver Island, is on the market for just $380,000 or the undeveloped property.

    But before you go see your bank manager, it’s worth

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  • Would France’s anti-food waste law work for Canada?

    A volunteer at the Food Bank transfers food donated by a supermarket to charity in France. (Reuters)A volunteer at the Food Bank transfers food donated by a supermarket to charity in France. (Reuters)

    Wasted food is a tremendous global problem. Depending on how you define waste, anywhere from 30 per cent to – in developed countries – upwards of half the food grown for human consumption ends up being thrown away.

    Almost everyone involved, from farmers to consumers, bear a share of the blame but France is taking a radical step to address it by targeting its supermarkets. A new law will make it illegal for large grocers to dispose of food that’s still edible into the garbage stream.

    The law, approved last week by the National Assembly, requires store operators to donate unsold still-edible food, whether packaged or fresh, to charities. To ensure compliance, they’ll be required to make contracts with recipient organizations.

    Food no longer fit for human consumption must be processed into animal feed or compost.

    It took a grassroots campaign by one French politician to bring about the legislation because, as in Canada, this serious issue flies pretty much under the public’s radar.

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  • Vancouver, Toronto building ‘poor doors’ viewed as opportunity, not segregation

    It’s hard to think of anything more likely to inflame Canadians’ sense of fairness than the idea of a residential building where those of modest means have to use an entrance separate from their economic betters.

    So it’s surprising an eruption of the so-called “poor door” controversy didn’t get more traction in Vancouver after word got out a new condominium planned for downtown had just such segregation between those who’d be living in subsidized “non-market” apartments and those paying top dollar for luxury suites.

    The debate flared for a few days after a contributor to the civic watchdog group CityHallWatch tweeted that the project proposed for the prime West End location on Jervis and Davie streets would have separate entrances for condo owners and non-market renters.

    But it soon became evident

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